Mentoring for ManagersBy Mary Sedor
Article Date: 04-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Encouraging mentoring relationships can help your younger employees - and managers in particular - become more productive faster, while retaining them longer.
Mr. Miyagi was one to Danny Laruso in The Karate Kid. So was Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. What the two fictitious characters have in common is that they both served as mentors to their young pupils - they exemplify, albeit á la Hollywood, how one with experience and wisdom can teach one who is younger what (s)he will need to achieve success. Veteran equipment dealers can use mentoring as a tool in their businesses for the younger generation of managers because the process not only teaches younger managers invaluable information, but there is the chance that it can enhance their jobs as well. A Low-Cost Retention ToolMarilyn Moats Kennedy, owner of Moats Kennedy Inc. in Wilmette, Ill., is an expert on cross-generational motivation, age diversity issues and mentoring, as well as recruitment and retention. She explains that mentoring is important because it's a great retention tool. "It gets the buy-in from the person being mentored, but most important, managers should mentor to help themselves," she said. "The latest numbers are that 50 percent of managers are marginally computer competent. The only way they will be fully computer competent is if younger people are mentored in the kinds of skills they need to do the job, such as technology." The nature of mentoring has changed. For example, Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, devoted more than 40 years to the company. While the older generation thinks he's a god, no one under 35 can imagine living life that way, says Kennedy. "In the old days, it was assumed that you would be the protégé of someone and as that person advanced, they would bring you along," said Kennedy. "It doesn't happen that way now. Most people don't want that to happen." The younger generation of managers in your dealership does want to be mentored, but they are looking for something in return, says Kennedy. She notes that people in their 20s are not planning on staying in your company for the long haul. They have a 1 in 47 chance of retiring where they are currently working, she said. "People in their 20s will have to be mentored into management. It's not in their instinct. Companies that have used mentoring successfully believe it helps with retention but most of all it gets the buy-in from these young people who are just passing through on the road to someplace else."The younger generation will remain in your company as long as they are learning and in a mutually supportive environment, says Kennedy. "The interest in mentoring is that it shortens the learning curve, maxing out what they learn on a job as quickly as possible," said Kennedy. "And the mentor ends up learning more than they think they do." Mentoring, Kennedy notes, is a two-way street. It cannot be forced and cannot be assigned. Kennedy notes that 20 years ago companies tried to assign mentors and it was a catastrophe. "You can't mentor someone and get nothing in return," she said. "You can't make a manager mentor effectively unless it's mutual. That's the most important thing we've learned." Kennedy says she tells managers to make it mutual because you may keep a person on the job longer than if you didn't mentor. She said it doesn't matter if it's two females, two males or a male and female; what matters is mutual interest and similar personality types to make a mentoring relationship work. "If you're both complete opposites it won't work," she said. "You have to both want an outcome. You can't mentor in general. You can't impose a mentoring program; you have to give them the option and they have to find someone who can be useful to them and that they can be useful to." One mistake managers make is that they believe mentoring is going to be a lot of work or that it's just another one of their responsibilities. "Managers typically say they don't have time to mentor, but they ought to get with the program," she said. "So many people see mentoring as just another job for managers, but it won't work that way." Bringing New Managers Up Dale Leppo, chairman of LeppoRents/Bobcat of Akron in Tallmadge, Ohio, had several mentors as he was coming up in the business. His dad brought him into the business and the first thing he said was that Dale had to learn from the ground up. So in each department, Leppo had a mentor who taught him the ropes. Today, Leppo himself is a mentor to Dan LeBeau, the vice president of sales. LeBeau started working for Leppo right out of college and has been selling equipment for about 13 to 14 years. About a year and a half ago, Leppo explains, he realized someone other than himself should be the sales manager going forward, so they asked LeBeau to take the reigns. "I talked to him a little bit about it and I spent six months working with Dan on how to sell as well as other important things sales managers should know," he said. "Then six months after that we transitioned and by spring he had all the sales guys working for him. We had very good sales results in 2007 in a challenging environment and a lot of it is due to Dan's ability to help the salesmen organize their selling efforts during the year." Leppo says the relationship was somewhere between really formal and really informal, but that mentoring continues to be very important at his dealership. They are continuing to forge new mentoring relationships in the company and several are ongoing at Leppo Rents. "There are three things we're attempting to accomplish in 2008 - one is we're aiming for stability and that means a relatively steady course," he said. "We're aiming to develop the people who are making day-to-day operational decisions, and you can't teach that in a class. It's the touchy-feely, soft stuff. It's the things that made us successful and how to get other people to fully utilize their skills and abilities to make us successful - you can't teach that in a class either." Another reason Leppo Rents uses mentoring is because it relays a consistent message. By having the vice president of rental mentor the people on the front lines of the rental department it ensures that the employees are all going to the customers with a consistent message and way of dealing with them. The downside, says Leppo, is the time and effort it takes. "That's why we're doing it in the winter," he said. "But our vice presidents and day-to-day operational people have responded very positively because they want to do a good job. I think it's positive for them and positive for us as a company. It is incredibly time consuming and brain-power consuming." A Wide VarietyA mentor doesn't necessarily have to be an older worker with a younger worker, says Kennedy. She defines five types of mentors: (1.) Information mentor - someone you know in the industry who shares gossip about the company and cannot hurt your career;(2.) Peer mentors - colleagues who mentor each other because they are both dealing with the same situation and see the world through the same perspective; (3.) Godfather mentor - someone who can make something happen for you and who can help you in your career, but who is potentially very dangerous. This is not a reciprocal relationship; (4.) Competitive mentor - someone who has your job in a different department or area but you and this person share information; and (5.) Staff mentor - a support person who is the most helpful of all in the long term. Martin Shannon, a 28-year-old working in sales in his family's equipment dealership, says he's learned from all different kinds of mentors in his years at the company. Shannon works for Williams Equipment & Supply, the Bobcat dealer for and construction supplier to Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.Shannon's grandfather started the business. Shannon's father and uncle are still involved in the family business and try to mentor him in the best way they can. They sent him to AED's Future Leaders conference and other AED events so he can network with his peers. The Future Leaders conference is specifically designed for the young generation of managers coming up in the industry. "I've been fortunate to be able to go to all those programs," said Shannon. "I've learned a lot through the seminars and by talking to other guys in the same situation." In fact, Shannon still keeps in touch with some of the people he met there. They've become peer mentors to him, he says. "People think it's easy being in a family business but it's tough," he said. "I can talk to the people from Future Leaders when maybe I got into an argument with my dad and ask them how they handle the same situation." While Wiliams Equipment does have a training or partnering program with the new sales guys, they don't have a formal mentoring program. However, when it comes down to it, Shannon's best source of mentoring actually comes from his customers. "They have the most information and know the equipment the best," he said. "You can think you know everything but they've been running the equipment. Listening to customers and grilling them for information is what I get the most out of. They know all the tricks and techniques."Shannon says mentoring can be a great ice breaker. "Having a mentor to show you the ropes gives you a lot better foot to stand on than being thrown in a truck and being told to go sell the equipment," he said. "If you have someone who has a lot of knowledge and a great sales technique, it gives you something better to start with." Getting StartedWhile you can't force a mentoring relationship as Kennedy explained, dealers can leave the option open to their managers. The most important thing to mention is that it isn't another task they'll be required to handle. "Explain to your managers that this
is not another task or something they will be rewarded for," she said. "If seasoned managers don't think they have anything to give to the new employees, that's not really true. If your managers have worked for other distributorships they know something that maybe even the boss doesn't know."Mentoring can be a substitute for each manager having to give each employee more individual attention, which can be cost effective, she says. Instead of adding to your problems it can mitigate them, she said. Kennedy suggests even making mentoring part of the orientation program for new hires. "It can be someone that your new employee can check in with while getting settled," she said. "The reason to do it is because it's a teaching function. Learning in a classroom is time consuming, expensive and I'm not convinced it always works. Each person assigned to that mentor could go and ask questions. It could be a peer but you move the learning curve along and that's what we're interested in. It's all going to show up on the bottom line. "You bring these people up to speed quicker and get them working harder faster," she said. "That's the goal." Jim Price, executive vice president of Groff Tractor in Mechanicsburg, Pa., is a former electronics industry executive. He has three informal mentors and continues to mentor someone in his former industry. Price explains that it doesn't matter what industry the mentor is in as long as they can provide you with sound business advice. "Find someone with broad business knowledge that you trust and have a good relationship with to be your mentor," he said. Price notes that no matter how much time and effort go into mentoring, managers should not only look for their own mentors but should try to mentor the younger generation."I think successful, higher level managers already understand many of the benefits of mentoring, but that less experienced managers are either reluctant to begin the process, don't know how to get started, or just don't think they have the time," he said. "A less experienced manager will be held back from being the best manager he can be without help from others."
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